In a dramatic development in the 10-day standoff between government forces and separatist rebels in the southern Philippines, the Zamboanga City police chief was reportedly abducted at gunpoint on Tuesday, only to appear a few hours later, having persuaded his 23 captors to surrender.
Flanked by three other officers, Senior Superintendent Jose Chiquito Malayo approached the rebels in the marshy outskirts of the city on Tuesday morning. When he disappeared with the guerrilla fighters, word spread that he had been taken hostage.
Reports of Malayo’s captivity, repeated by Zamboanga’s mayor in the afternoon, sparked grave concerns on a day otherwise dominated by the rescue of 149 hostages. However, Malayo emerged in the early evening, joined by a group of militants ready to give up the fight.
“You may [decide] if I was hostaged or not,” a smiling Chiqui told reporters. “We were looking for the reported armed group. We bumped into them. We did not exchange gun fire, and we started talking.” Later, Malayo denied that he had been abducted, claiming that he voluntarily went with the rebels to negotiate their surrender.
The 23 Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) cadres who turned themselves in said they had traveled to Zamboanga believing they would partake in peaceful protests. When the fighting started, they supposedly retreated to the mangrove forest, where they later encountered Malayo.
As new buildings in Zamboanga were set ablaze on Wednesday morning, it was announced that the 10-day battle had claimed over 100 lives and displaced over 100,000 people. MNLF fighters are still holding civilian hostages, however, the Philippine military reports that the insurgent forces have been reduced to only 30 to 40 fighters.
The clashes were ignited on Sept. 9, as around 200 members of the MNLF attempted to hoist their flag at Zamboanga city hall but were intercepted by government forces. At the height of the conflict, the rebels held around 200 civilians hostage and were fighting as many as 3,000 troops.
After a push by the army in recent days, the rebels have been constricted to only 30% of the area they originally occupied, and the city is slowly coming back to life. On Wednesday, the port of Zamboanga resumed commercial operations, and it was also announced that the airport would be open for a few flights on Thursday.